Graham Shaw
Wed 5 Oct 2011 21:42
After ten days in Niue we set off again, still with Frank and Gail aboard.  On passage from Niue to Tonga we ended up with another visitor, 87 miles from land:
He/she decided to hop on for a ride for a short ride. 
Just for those who do not know what it is, we think it is a flying fox (type of bat), and yes it was big.  The picture above was taken under our radar dome, halfway up our mast.  He did manage to stop on our mast head and on the genoa as well. He was a little tired we think.
Tonga is a very beautiful place with numerous anchorages to stay in, but first we had to clear into the main town of Neiafu (part of the Vava'u Group of islands), which as you all know involves lots of official people coming to visit your boat for their sum of money.  The first was the agriculture official who charged us a sum of 23.50 tonga panga'a, we are not sure what it was for.  Next was the Health official who charged us 100 panga'a for again we are not surewhat, we think to check that no one died on passage and we were not carrying the plague.  Next was Customs, which is the standard, and then Immigration again the standard - basically it is a good way to make some money and do very little for it.  Considering the number of yacht crews who came to meet us on the dock, and came aboard for tea it all seems very relaxed.  I'm sure if I told them we had a bat onboard for part of our journey, we would have to pay another fee for fumigating the boat??
The main town is quite a happening place, a big meeting place for all the cruiser on route to New Zealand or Oz, but also the parting place for lots of boats going different directions, so clearly we had lots to celebrate.  We just missed the regatta week which was a big shame, but good fun was had by all the other boats - lots of dressing up, games and racing. More importantly they were playing the rubgy the day we arrived, so a big night out on the town.  I also managed a night out to watch the Fakaladies - I leave that to your imagination.
There is a huge market where you can buy all your local vegetables, which I have to say I got very excited about seeing all these vegetables I have not seen in a long while, also they had some beautiful craft too.  I could not resist purchasing a carving of a humpback whale, which is made out of coconut wood.  This carving is a little large, so help was needed carrying it to the boat. I just hope I can get it through Oz customs when we arrive.  They also had lots of bone carvings, which were sold as whale bone, but in fact when checking they were made out of cow bone.  The nice thing about Tonga is that everything is much more resonably priced than in the French Polynesia or the Cook Islands, in fact the word is cheap. 
We managed a day or so in another anchorage, stopping at some beautiful caves called the Swallows Caves, where you can drive in in your dinghy, and have a snorkel around.  We ended up at a beautiful sandy beach on a small island, with a few other boats, and lots of children for Lucas to play with.  This little island is famous for when Prince Edward visited the island back in 1983, when the locals built a toilet for the occasion, which still stands today.  Cue joke about sitting on the throne!
We returned to town for a Tongan feast which is held every Sunday, and which was very special.  About 20 of us tourists attented which was just the right number.  They roasted a pig on a spit and everything else was cooked in an Umu (traditional polynesian underground oven).
Yes not much pig for twenty people - but the crackling was beautiful!
Its was great to taste the different vegetables and cooked in a unusual way.  An umu is like a underground bbq made from wood then covered in earth - gives an earthy taste to your veggies!
There are so many anchorages to visit, and so little time.  We managed a number of spots, and did lots of snorkeling.  There is such a different variety of fish, and corals which I have not seen before.  Also we have managed to see whales in the distance on a daily basis when traveling about the islands. One day was very special when we were sailing in the outer islands, and two large humpback and one small whale started performing right in front of us, breaching completely out of the water. In fact they were so close it was a little nerve wrecking for Gray, so we put the engine on so they were aware of us, before they ended up on the deck. It was an awesome experience, and I wish I had better photos to show for it, all 50ish photos where just splashes.
Another night in town they put on a show of some whales that had been filmed in the last week, which was very moving and beautiful footage. I wish I could have been a part of it, but alas it was their last day of filming.
We managed to meet some new people with children, Grufflo (like the children's book) and Saba.  It was Joshua from Gruffalo's forth birthday, so a beach party was had.  Lots of fun and games
Oscar, Raoul and Josh, trying to beat the girls in the tug of war.
Lucas' first donut ride - he was so excited!!
Do you think we are a bit big for that little gap?
Approaching some of the many islands of Tonga.
In the last few days it was Lynn from yacht Steel Sapphire's and that of Connor from Toucan, so another party was to be had, the theme being green (Connor is from Dublin).  A brillant time was had with Connor putting his voice and guitar skills, and his memory of words for songs.  The party was held on the two boats, starting on Toucan and finishing in the early hours on Steel Sapphire.
Lynn the birthday girl and Connor the birthday boy, with Peggy and David from yacht Rhythm - fab wig.
Glenn and Lynn, trying out the spoons.
Connor doing his thing.  Yes he has Peggy's bikini top on!??
Yes we know some young people as well!  By the way, those are Lucas' pyjama bottoms on my head - very fetching!
Sadly we have parted company with our shipwrecked friends Gail and Frank from RiRi. They are heading to New Zealand and of course we are going to Oz, so they have found new homes (boats) to take them to New Zealand.  Gail has joined Joy and Gordon on the yacht "Promise", and Frank has joined Solange and Joao on "Casulo".  We have thouroughly enjoyed having them aboard, and Lucas has had a great time playing with them.  We have clearly converted them to the catamaran lifestyle as both the boats they have joined are also cats!!  We wish them best on their onward voyages and hopefully we will catch up with them in New Zealand when we fly there.
Frank and Gail on Palmerston.
Next stop, which should be tomorrow, will be Fiji. Hopefully we have internet to send the blog.  And alledgedly Jersey Telecom have a roaming agreement with Fiji, which means we can be telephoned on the Jsy mobile no. for the first time since the Galapagos Islands back in April!  Just bear in mind that we are 12 hours ahead GMT!